On The Block Movie Club: The Big Short

The late ‘aughts are an insane era of American history. Conflict in the Middle East in full-swing, the technology boom about to begin its truly massive takeover, Kansas ranked in college football for a brief period of time, absolute chaos. However, even with the hectic nature of the times (the Jayhawks were ranked #2 in the nation!), life was defined by the economic downturn and recession that was building up post-Y2K and the full collapse in 2008. After the stock market absolutely plummeted and Wall Street went up in flames, millions of Americans were left looking at their mortgages and other investments with no idea how they would make it through the next round of payments. It was complicated and devastating and a very dark spot for a large portion of the nation, but most people had no idea how the situation ever became so dire. Twelve years have since passed, and there is still a dark haze of confusion around exactly why seemingly overnight the floor fell out from underneath the entire United States. Once the dust had settled, filmmakers and authors alike rushed to get their thoughts and research down to tell the masses what went down, but explaining this mess would take more than just the usual documentary. Enter: Adam McKay and his film, The Big Short.

McKay’s resumé of comedy movies is a list of classics and some of the funniest films of the past couple decades. Step Brothers, Anchorman, The Other Guys, and many other projects (some without Will Ferrell), highlight his career, so when word came out he would be attacking the issue of the 2008 housing crisis, fans were understandably skeptical. In retrospect, having a comedy director make this movie and tell this story makes perfect sense. An absurd time in history revolving around the intricacies of Wall Street could only be properly explained to the people by someone who deals in the absurd for a living, such as McKay. The elements of satire and humor that run so deep in the comedy genre work perfectly to help “dumb down” the insanity of the multiple different levels where the system failed the American people. Information isn’t being spoon-fed when watching The Big Short, but it’s close enough where it’s accessible but also informative. Michael Lewis did this incredibly in his book of the same name that inspired the film, and McKay was able to bring it to the screen seamlessly.

Beyond the actual screenplay and methods used to help make the content as accessible as possible, the casting for this movie is perfectly executed. Nobody wants to be lectured while watching a film; removing ourselves from the real world is oftentimes why we watch movies in the first place. For this reason, an entire two-hour long piece of work that revolves around educating the viewer is not going to work without some recognizable and trustworthy faces on the screen. Best way to accomplish this? Bring on mega-stars like Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carrell, of course. Add in the supporting roles of John Magaro, Finn Wittrock, Marisa Tomei, and so many others plus the multiple cameos from the likes of Charlize Theron, Selena Gomez, and the late Anthony Bourdain, and all of a sudden the audience trusts everyone on screen that isn’t screwing over everyone else. Picking a stand-out performance for this movie is almost impossible because of the pure pedigree of all involved, but Carrell as Mark Baum is a personal favorite. Brash, sincere, and hilarious in even the most serious of situations, every scene of his is a highlight.

Movies like The Big Short don’t come around often. Beyond just being a really impressive and enjoyable watch, it tells the story of something that affected multiple generations of people around the world from the side of the few folks who were able to benefit from the collapse. And the audience roots for these people! It’ll have even the most staunch bank-supporter wanting to storm Wall Street after seeing just how evil those groups can be when given the chance. Never before have CDOs and subprime mortgages been so entertaining, and they never will be again. Coincidentally, we have another New York movie in line for this week, our first newly released film The King of Staten Island, written and directed by Judd Apatow and starring Pete Davidson. See you all next week!

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